Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) vs. New York Jets (1-8)
Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014
1 p.m.; CBS
SERIES HISTORY: Steelers lead, 19-4 (2-0 postseason). Pittsburgh has won the last three meetings, including the 2010 AFC Championship Game.
LAST MEETING: Steelers 19, Jets 6, Oct. 13, 2013, MetLife Stadium. The Steelers captured win No. 600 in franchise history and win No. 1 in the 2013 season. QB Ben Roethlisberger's 55-yard touchdown pass to WR Emmanuel Sanders broke open a 9-6 game early in the third quarter. The Steelers ended up with season-high totals in sacks (three) and takeaways (two) and limited the Jets to a 27 percent success rate on third-down conversions (3-for-11).
LAST WEEK: Roethlisberger threw for six touchdowns and set an NFL record for touchdown passes in consecutive games (12) in a 43-23 victory over Baltimore. The Jets were beaten, 24-10, at Kansas City in QB Michael Vick's first start of the season.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL**: They'll run it in the Rex Ryan "ground and pound" tradition, and they'll hand it to at least three running backs while doing so.
The NFL's No. 3 rushing attack averages 139.9 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry. RBs Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell shared the load at Kansas City. Ivory is the power-back workhorse (109-497-4.6-5 touchdowns) but Johnson can still scoot and is still dangerous on cutbacks off an outside-zone approach. Vick looked to run only when absolutely necessary against the Chiefs and appeared not to do so with the conviction he once had, but he remains mobile in the pocket. The Jets like three-tight ends sets as well as three-wide receivers groupings. Rookie TE Jace Amaro is an intriguing possession target.
Down-the-field shots were non-existent until the Jets found themselves trailing late in the Kansas City game. They were at least able to get new WR Percy Harvin involved (11 catches, 129 yards) against the Chiefs. Finding Harvin (whether he's split wide, in the slot or in the backfield) and keeping him in front of the defense will be a priority. Vick still has a quick release and can still deliver an accurate ball. Johnson is also an effective receiver and has lined up as the wildcat quarterback.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL: They'll have to work to establish the run against the NFL's No. 7 run defense (88.4 yards per game). The Jets stuff the run with an active, aggressive front seven in the Ryan-Baltimore tradition, the staple of the league's No. 6 total defense (319.4). DE Muhammad Wilkerson is All-Pro caliber and DT Sheldon Richardson is likewise capable of disrupting an offense. They'll need to be blocked more consistently than anyone else on the Jets' defense.
The Jets' secondary has been in a state of upheaval of late. New York has started five different foursomes over the past five games, with S Dawan Landry the lone constant. Undrafted rookie CB Marcus Williams (signed to the active roster from the practice squad on Oct. 28) started against the Chiefs. Fourth-year CB Josh Thomas (signed as a street free agent on Oct. 13) replaced starting CB Antonio Allen in the third quarter against the Chiefs. New York played seven defensive backs (rookie S Calvin Pryor also started) at Kansas City trying to work around the absences of CB Dee Milliner (injured reserve) and CB Darrin Walls (injured/calf). Seemingly any of the cornerbacks can be attacked, including slot-corner Kyle Wilson.
All the uncertainty on the back end had the Jets playing soft against the Chiefs and trying to compensate for inconsistent coverage with numbers. The Jets didn't blitz much and their normally-reliable pass rush (25 sacks this season) didn't apply much pressure. Even when getting pressure this season, splash plays have been rare. The Jets have an NFL-low one interception, an NFL-low three takeaways and are an NFL-worst minus-15 in turnover ratio. They're also No. 30 in red zone defense (opponents score touchdowns 68.8 percent of the time).
SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS: The Jets allowed a 78-yard kickoff return and Harvin sprung a 65-yard kickoff return at Kansas City. K Nick Folk has had 19 of 37 kickoffs returned but the Steelers are No. 31 in kickoff return average (16.9). The Steelers also coughed up a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to Baltimore's Jacoby Jones.
THE X-FACTOR: The Jets have been competitive against the Packers (31-24), Lions (24-17), Broncos (31-17), Patriots (27-25), and Chiefs (24-10). But they've also been blown out by the Chargers (31-0) and Bills (43-23). Will they show up prepared to make a stand against the Steelers, or ready to pack it in at the first sign of trouble? You'd expect the former, but you never know.
THEY SAID IT: "It's evolved tremendously. The things that I know now, the way I read defenses, the way I see the field is totally different. The funny thing about it being my 12th year, I still find ways to get better each and every day. There's always something that you can work on. I didn't understand that when I was younger. That's certainly making me a better player now." – Michael Vick on his game then and now.
"To be honest, I'm feeling a lot better than I have the previous weeks. Surprisingly I feel a little better (this week) than I did the previous week. I don't know if it's the body just getting used to it, or if I'm just getting numb to the pain." – Steelers LB James Harrison on how he's handling his re-entry into the NFL from retirement.